All things great and small: the trick of everyday happiness

Happiness is infamously hard to define. Is it measured by success and money? History (and more recently, stories of unhappy celebs with all the money and fame they could wish for) would suggest not.

In fact, many studies suggest that those from poorer backgrounds are actually much happier than those who seemingly have ‘everything’. A good job? Though what ‘you do’ in life is important to your mental well-being, it’s not integral to happiness.

Numerous scientific studies have shown that the most important pillar in one’s life is relationships and friendships with others. There’s actually a bonding hormone called Oxytocin that is released from social interactions, such as hugging. But even those who have healthy relationships aren’t always happy, and those who are naturally insular often are. So, what’s the missing link?

If ensuring happiness for the future is hard to accomplish, where do we start? Well, with the present. Sounds simple enough, but many psychologists (and Buddhist philosophers) would say that it’s in the ability to learn to live every moment as it comes, rather than worry about the future or the past, where real joys is found. Not, they say, abstract things like ‘success’, which is dependent on a future- ultimately unknowable and indefinable- notion of wellbeing.

In a world of ever-present social media, iPhones and technology, it can seem like these ‘abstract’ concepts of happiness are constantly surrounding us, even suffocating us- perfect beach bodies on Instagram, a Facebook post celebrating all A* grades- and they can make us feel inferior or give us FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), which is a very real psychological condition.

Thankfully, maintaining a calm mind is trainable. Below are a few mindfulness practice steps which anyone can begin doing. They revolve around the idea of training one’s mind to focus on being aware in the present moment rather than caving inwards and feeding those negative thoughts (worry about the past or the future, for instance). If you try and practice one or more of these every-day, they will become habit and integrate into your daily life without you realising.

  • Slow down and pay attention to the small things. When you’re washing up, let your mind slowly follow your mechanical actions; focus on the physical sensation of eating; take pleasure in mundane activities like doing household chores. When you are walking, pay attention to the experience of walking, and the sights, sounds and smells of your external environment. If you are experiencing social anxiety in a group, try and focus on one physical thing in the room.
  • Practises like yoga are a great way to maintain a mindful and meditative mindset for an hour each day, whilst giving the body the space it needs after being crouched behind a desk all day.
  • Focus on your breathing: this is the hallmark of any meditative exercise. It can sometimes be difficult to stop and focus on the present moment, but your breath will always guide you there. Close your eyes and take slow, long breaths.

We can make these ‘our tools’ to help us lead a happy and fulfilled life. These are what marks out a good day from a bad one; the ability not to let one of those days (when the universe just seems not to be working in your favour and everything that could possibly go wrong goes wrong) really get to you and spiral your mind into a maze of negative emotions, but to let annoyances pass by you like water off a duck’s back. Get practicing!

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